Down at Rookie ball, you see plenty of talent and raw ability. How many players will use their ability to make it all the way to the major leagues? You never know. But the Princeton Rays’ 2012 squad was one of their most talented ever and the Rays hope to see dividends from this team someday. Many of these prospects are so raw that they won’t make most prospect lists until at least a year or two down the line even if their potential is unbelievable. Right now we’re going to look at these players, some already top prospects and others sleepers but with incredible talent, and see just how bright the Rays’ future 4 or 5 years down the line could be if these players pan out.
On the year, the Princeton Rays, managed by Mike Johns, went 36-32, third place in the Appalachian League’s East Division. The P-Rays as a team posted a .254/.321/.379 line compared to the league average of .254/.329/.382, hitting a lot of doubles and triples, finishing in second and third in the Appy League in those categories, but finishing just 8th in the 10-team league in home runs. On the pitching side, they were right around average, posting a 4.14 ERA compared to the 4.15 league average, posting an 8.3 K/9, a 3.1 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 compared to the league average of an 8.4 K/9, a 3.4 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9, leading the lead in home runs allowed. And defensively, the P-Rays were decent overall, posting a .964 fielding percentage compared to the .963 league average, 5th-best in the league, and finishing 4th in range factor, but they got special performances by their catchers, leading the league with a 39% caught stealing percentage and finishing with 10 passed balls allowed, 3rd-fewest in the leagues. All this is nice, but not too many people truly care about team stats at Rookie ball. Let’s start getting into the individual players.
Oscar Hernandez, 19, tore up the Venezuelan Summer League in 2011 with a .402 average and 21 home runs. His first pro experience in the US was not nearly as exciting, but Hernandez still had himself a nice run with the P-Rays. Hernandez, 6’0″ and 196 pounds, posted a .231/.349/.394 line with 9 doubles, 5 homers, 24 RBI, and most impressively a 31-23 strikeout to walk ratio in 49 games and 195 plate appearances. His strikeout to walk ratio was the 8th-best mark in the Appy League, with all but one of the players ahead of him being older. He shows good bat speed, although he got into trouble trying to elevate everything in 2012, but between his patience and his power potential, he has the ability to be a well above-average offensive catcher if everything works out. And defensively, Hernandez made huge strides, posting a .988 fielding percentage in 46 games compared to just .973 in 42 games in 2011, allowing just 6 passed balls versus 12 in 2011, and keeping his caught stealing rate steady at 39% versus 42% in ’11. His defense still requires quite a bit of work, but he really made strides this year. Hernandez’s raw power didn’t really come out too often this year, but his patience and defensive improvements are a very good sign. Hernandez has the highest upside of any of the Rays’ catching prospects, and although the risk with him is extremely high, the Rays have to look forward to what the future holds for Hernandez.
Omar Narvaez, 20, doesn’t generate nearly the excitement that Hernandez does but he does have a higher floor. Narvaez, 5’10” and 172 pounds, was the P-Rays’ leading hitter for average, posting a .305/.380/.384 line with 7 doubles, 1 triple, 1 homer, 16 RBI, and 19 strikeouts versus 17 walks in 43 games and 173 plate appearances. Defensively, he split his time evenly between catcher and DH, and although he played pretty well defensively, posting a .989 fielding percentage, allowing just 2 passed balls, and managed a 45% caught stealing percentage, the amount of DH and the fact that he has seen at first base and left field earlier in his career, tells you everything that you need to know. Narvaez has a very good arm and is a decent receiver, but he just doesn’t have the durability to catch. He’s out of place at the catcher position- he has a middle infield build and even has slightly above-average overall speed. Narvaez is going to have to bulk up to stay at catcher because his bat doesn’t profile anywhere else at this point. He makes contact and has a good eye, although his power is non-existent. Maybe bulking up could help his power as well. If that doesn’t happen, Narvaez might be an interesting guy for the Rays to play with as a player with the athleticism, speed, and arm strength to possibly play anywhere on the field if nowhere consistently. We’ll have to see what the Rays decide to do with Narvaez moving forward.
Chad Nacapoy, who turned 23 in July, was the Rays’ 38th round pick in this past June’s draft. Nacapoy, a squat 5’7″, 220 posted a .244/.375/.267 line for Princeton with 1 double, 2 RBI, and 11 strikeouts versus 9 walks in 22 games and just 56 plate appearances. Defensively, Nacapoy allowed 2 passed balls in just 6 games defensively and threw out 0 of 3 attempted basestealers. Nacapoy is a backup catcher-type with a little talent, showing solid bat speed although with very little power, and showing good arm strength although his receiving ability is currently in shambles. Nacapoy didn’t get much playing time in his pro debut, but the Rays hope he can develop his game and have a chance at the big leagues in some capacity someday.
John Alexander, 19, is a high-upside 6’5″, 200 first baseman who was the Rays’ 8th round pick in 2012. In his first extended pro stint, Alexander posted a .230/.260/.353 line with 15 doubles, 4 homers, 33 RBI, 5 of 8 stolen bases, and 39 strikeouts against 9 walks in 62 games and 246 plate appearances. He posted a .987 fielding percentage in 61 games at first base. Alexander is a long way from reaching his potential, but you can’t deny that the ability is there. He shows outstanding raw power and even good bat speed as he makes a ton of contact, even against offspeed pitches. The problem is that his patience is non-existent, obviously keeping his on-base percentage down but also causing him to put the ball in play weakly too often, limiting his power. With improved plate discipline, Alexander’s numbers could really be impressive, but considering how little he has right now, it’s going to be a lengthy process converting him from basically a free-swinger to a disciplined power hitter. Defensively, Alexander also needs quite a bit of work, but he has the athleticism to be a plus defender. Alexander has tremendous potential and the Rays hope to see him continuing to progress towards his ceiling in coming seasons.
Reid Redman, who turns 24 in November, was the Rays’ 23rd round pick in 2012 and is the type of player that they really like. In his pro debut for the P-Rays, Redman posted a .265/.325/.365 line with 15 doubles, 2 triples, 2 homers, 26 RBI, 6 of 10 stolen bases, and 46 strikeouts against 21 walks. Redman really stood out defensively at second base, posting a .980 fielding percentage in 52 games, and he also played 6 games at third base. These stats, especially considering how old Redman is for Rookie ball, give you an idea of what type of player he is. He’s never going to be much of a hitter. He shows decent bat speed, but with little patience and little power. He’s fast, but it doesn’t know how to put it to use too well at this point as he needs work learning to read pitchers so he can steal bases, and he also needs work on his bunting. But defensively, Redman really shines. Redman projects as a clearly above-average defensive second baseman thanks to excellent range, quick reflexes, and plus arm strength, and he can also handle third base capably as well at this point. Redman, who is 6’0″, 180, is athletic enough to handle any infield or outfield position (at least shortstop and centerfield in a pinch), and he projects as a defense-first utility player. Redman’s offensive game is extremely raw and the Rays are going to try to maximize everything they can get out of Redman, but his defense is going to something to behold at the big league level someday if everything goes well.
Julian Morillo, who turns 21 in December, was a relatively high-profile signing by the Rays out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. Morillo had himself a very interesting season. A player previously known for his patience and inability to do anything else at the plate, Morillo completely reversed that trend in 2012 for the P-Rays. He posted a .303/.328/.420 line with 3 doubles, 4 triples, 1 homer, 20 RBI, 2 of 4 stolen bases, and 18 strikeouts versus just 2 walks in 38 games and 126 plate appearances. Morillo showed good bat speed and made contact like crazy, but he simply did not walk. His 0.9% walk rate was the lowest in the Appy League even if you want to set the minimum number of plate appearances as low as 25. He got hit by more pitches (3) than he drew walks. It was a far cry from 2009 to 2011, when Morillo posted an outstanding 68-64 strikeout to walk ratio- but hit .243 and just .206 the last two seasons. This season was really bizarre for Morillo, but hopefully next year he can combine his previous patience with his ability to make contact to finally put together a good all-around season. Morillo doesn’t have very much power at all, but he has untapped speed that he needs to learn to use on the basepaths and through bunting. Defensively, Morillo was signed as a shortstop and showed great range and a strong arm, but poor hands led him to be converted to a second baseman. Even there, though, Morillo was erratic and the P-Rays ended up playing him all over the place- second base, third base, shortstop, left field, and right field. He should be able to be a fine defensive second baseman, but he needs a ton of work in that regard. Julian Morillo features solid upside, but after a strange season, what direction he’s heading in as a prospect is extremely unclear.
This is where we’ll stop for today and we’ll discuss the Princeton Rays’ third basemen and shortstops tomorrow. Even after covering just these few players, it’s clear that there is a lot of talent on the P-Rays team- most of it raw- and several of these players will be worth watching to see how they develop.